The Bible



IsiZulu is the most widely spoken language in South Africa with more than 11 500 000 speakers in the country. The greatest concentration of isiZulu speakers live in KwaZulu-Natal.

Missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) arrived in Port Natal in 1835. This group distinguished themselves as the first translators of the isiZulu Bible. The first complete book of the Bible to be translated into isiZulu was The Gospel according to Matthew translated by George Champion and revised by Newton Adams.

The first complete isiZulu Bible which incorporated the translation work of the ABCFM missionaries was published by the American Bible Society in 1883.

In 1959 a new translation of the isiZulu Bible appeared which is still the preferred Bible of isiZulu speakers. At the request of some churches using the Bible in isiZulu, a new translation is currently underway.



More than 8 million South Africans speak IsiXhosa. The earliest Bible translation into isiXhosa was mainly the work of missionaries like William Shaw and William Boyce of the Wesleyan Missionary Society (WMS).

They first translated the Gospel of Luke which appeared in 1833. A collaboration between missionaries of the Wesleyan, Glasgow and Berlin missionary societies led to the New Testament being published in 1846. The first complete Bible translated into isiXhosa was printed in sections on the missionary press at Mount Coke between 1857 to 1859. The first Bible published in one volume was a revision of the 1859 translation and appeared in 1864. The revision was the work of mainly Rev JW Appleyard. Many subsequent revisions followed of which the last major one was in 1975.

A complete new Bible translation in isiXhosa was published by the Bible society of South Africa in 1996.




Tshivenda is spoken by more than 1,2 million people in South Africa and is also spoken in Zimbabwe.

The pioneer translator of the Bible into Venda was the missionary and linguist, Dr PE Schwellnuss of the Berlin Missionary Society.

By 1920 the four Gospels and Book of Acts had been translated and distributed. Three years later the New Testament followed. In the 1936 the first complete Tshivenda Bible appeared with the most recent being done by the Bible Society of South Africa in 1998.



Setswana, spoken in Botswana, is also the mother tongue of some 4 million people living in South Africa.

The pioneer translator of the Bible into Setswana was Robert Moffat. He started translating the Bible soon after his arrival in Kuruman in 1817. Setswana was the first South African language to receive a complete Bible.

In 1830 the Gospel of Luke was translated into Setswana for the very first time. The translation of the New Testament followed in 1840. It too was translated by Robert Moffat, and printed under his supervision during a visit to England. In 1857 the first complete Bible in Setswana appeared. As Moffat finished translating each section of the Bible it was printed on a missionary press at Kuruman. In 1872 this translation was published in a single volume. In 1908 a revision of this Bible mainly done by Alfred Wookey was published.

The most recent translation under the auspices of the Bible Society of South Africa dates back to 1970.